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CHARLES DICKENS

 

(1812—1870)

 

Charles Dickens was born in Landsport, a small town near the sea, in a

middle-class family. In 1814 the family moved to London. His father was

a clerk in a navy office; he got a small salary there and usually spent

more than he earned. As a result of this he was thrown into the debtors'

prison when Charles was only ten. At that age the boy went to work at a

factory which was like a dark, damp cellar. There he stuck labels on

bottles of shoeblacking all day long, for a few pennies.

 

Later he went to school which he attended for only three years and at

the age of 15 he started his work in a lawyer's office. He continued to

educate himself, mainly by reading books. At 18 he became a reporter in

Parliament. There he got acquainted with politics and never had a high

opinion of his country's policy afterwards.

 

In 1833 he began to write his first short stories about London life. In

1836 those stories were published as a book, under the title of Sketches

by Boz; Boz was the penname with which he signed his first work.

 

In 1837 Dickens became well-known to the English readers. His first big

work appeared, written in instalments for a magazine at first, and later

published in book form. It was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick

Club. From then on Dickens was one of the best known and loved writers

of his day.

 

In 1842 he made his first trip to America. He said that he wanted to see

for himself what "real" democracy was like. He was rather disappointed

with it. He wrote about his trip and his impressions in his American

Notes.

 

Dickens travelled a lot. He visited France and Italy and later went to

America again. At the same time he continued to write. In 1858 he began

to tour England, reading passages from his works to the public. These

readings were a great success, for Dickens was a wonderful actor, but

the hard work and travelling were bad for his health. On March 15, 1870,

he made his last reading and said to the public "From these garish

lights I vanish now for evermore". He suffered a stroke on June, 8, and

died the following day at his writing desk penning a sentence for Edwin

Drude. The novel was left unfinished.

 

Dickens literary heritage is of world importance. He developed the

English social novel, writing about the most burning social problems of

his time. He created a wide gallery of pictures of bourgeois society and

its representative types which still exist in England; he wrote of the

workhouses of England and the tragedy of the children who lived in them

(Oliver Twist); he wrote about the problem of education and showed how

it handicapped children (Nicholas Nickleby).

 

After his trip to America Dickens wrote Martin Chuzzlewit. A part of

this work had an American setting. He criticized American customs and

democracy very severely. Later Dickens wrote about money and its

terrible, destructive power over men (Dombey and Son). David

Copperfield, one of the most lyrical of his works, was to some extent

autobiographical; it reflected a young man's life in bourgeois society.

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